Seeking to Characterize the Autistic Population More Effectively by Observing the Strategies They Use to Fit Into Society

Summary: Delving deeper into the phenomenon of social camouflaging could help improve research into autism spectrum disorder.

Source: University of the Basque Country

In recent years there has been a lot of talk about camouflaging in autism. However, research into camouflaging is still relatively very recent, its nature has been barely studied and there are a lot of open questions.

This work therefore aims to present an integrative view of camouflaging. It can be characterised as the set of strategies adopted by the autistic population to fit into the social world.

“Our aim is to understand this phenomenon better and to analyse in depth how camouflaging develops, so that some suggestions can be put forward on how to step up research into it,” said Valentina Petrolini, researcher in the UPV/EHU’s Lindy Lab group and one of the authors of the study.

People normally camouflage themselves with two aims in mind: to hide their diagnosis and to fit in socially.

“We would say that people camouflage themselves when they rehearse conversations they are going to have, when they imitate other people’s gestures and expressions and, in general, when they make an effort to hide their autistic traits,” explained Valentina Petrolini.

“Many studies link the attempt by these individuals to pass themselves off as who they are not with high levels of anxiety and long-term mental problems,” added the UPV/EHU researcher.

How is camouflaging detected in the autistic population? Tools, such as tests and questionnaires currently exist, but they overlook a high proportion of people in the spectrum, such as people who unconsciously camouflage themselves, people with intellectual and/or linguistic disabilities, etc.

In this work, “we are proposing that information be triangulated by using existing evidence, gathering information from the environment, observing a person’s behaviour in different contexts and talking to people in different contexts… in other words, by observing the phenomenon of camouflaging without directly asking the person involved,” said Valentina Petrolini.

Extending the study of camouflaging to groups that are currently overlooked also has significant implications in terms of impact. That is why this study extends the discussion on camouflaging to currently little studied groups on the autism spectrum, i.e. children and adults with linguistic and/or intellectual disabilities.

This shows multi-colored game pieces shaped like people
People normally camouflage themselves with two aims in mind: to hide their diagnosis and to fit in socially. Image is in the public domain

“We argue that camouflaging in these groups may differ from what the current literature describes as typical cases of camouflaging,” said Valentina Petrolini.

“One of the points that emerges from our study,” Petrolini went on, “is that camouflaging may emerge differently, and exert a different impact, depending on the people who do it”.

This purely theoretical work concludes that “the basis of much of the research conducted so far is limited to the characterisation and representativeness of the participants, suggesting that the findings cannot be applied to the autistic community as a whole”, said Valentina Petrolini.

The work also highlights the need to explore the phenomenon of autism in greater depth and to develop measuring tools that are more accurate and inclusive than the current ones.

“We could even go as far as to say that it is a call to action so that generalized conclusions are not drawn without having an accurate picture of the situation,” said the UPV/EHU’s Lindy Lab research group.

About this social neuroscience and autism research news

Author: Matxalen Sotillo
Source: University of the Basque Country
Contact: Matxalen Sotillo – University of the Basque Country
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
Autistic camouflaging across the spectrum” by Valentina Petrolini et al. New Ideas in Psychology


Autistic camouflaging across the spectrum

Camouflaging may be characterized as a set of actions and strategies more or less consciously adopted by some autistic people to navigate the neurotypical social world. Despite the increased interest that this phenomenon has garnered, its nature remains elusive and in need of conceptual clarification.

In this paper, we aim to put forward an inclusive view of camouflaging that does justice to its complexity while also reflecting the heterogeneity of autism as a condition.

First, we offer an overview of the main characterizations of camouflaging. This overview shows that current characterizations fail to paint a cohesive picture, and that different accounts emphasize different aspects of the phenomenon.

Second, we explore the analogy between camouflaging and passing, which we take to be illuminating to describe some forms of camouflaging, while probably obscuring the study of others.

Third, we extend the discussion about camouflaging to currently understudied groups across the autistic spectrum – i.e., children, and adults with linguistic and/or intellectual disabilities.

We argue that camouflaging in such groups may differ from what the current literature describes as typical instances of camouflaging.

We conclude by revisiting the nature of camouflaging in light of such understudied groups, and we offer some suggestions on how to move research forward.

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  1. Yet another article about Autism that inherently assumes the perspective that Autism is a defect and that the people with Autims have no introspective capability and can not be trusted to provide information of any value, but rather should be treated like ‘lab rats’.
    The assumption that Autistics are ‘seeking to hide their diagnosis’ treats Autism as something to be ashamed of.
    Speaking as one, and having talked to some others, the ‘camoflauging’ being researched is instead much more like Jane Goodall trying to figure out how to communicate and interact with the apes, and not provoke them into a negative behavior, because she is ’embedding’ with the apes and is outnumbered and they are big and strong. In this manner, Autistics ‘study how to be human’ and yes, how to ‘fit in’. If you have never experienced being bullied, you may be unaware of how common it is and what characteristics they tend to target, namely the person who ‘does not fit in’ the one who is alone, just like wolves seekign the slowest member of the herd, to isolate them and pounce. Being inherently students of humanity, Autistics figure out early it is important to ‘fit in’. Since this stage of the investigation is about figuring out how to frame the investigation efforts later, it seems incredibly limiting to “not ask” the subjects why and how they do things. My experience is not necessarily true for all, but why not ask all of them and see if any patterns emerge suggesting pathways for future investigations?

    1. People with Autism or a Disability interest me. I do have a soft spot for them people. That is why most of the time I gravitate towards that crowd. I could care less what people think. In a way, it is kind of protection for me because I have been through many things when younger (injuries). The Bullies and even the Normal People will never understand the different outlooks I search for in these people. Them people could never have as much empathy as I do. Them are the ones that obsess over money or think they are Gods. Again I could care less about what people think of me. That just shows their Real Colors and I will tell you it is a real poop brown. People who are unwilling to change settings are the ones who never experience the other side of the Coin. At least I can say, I tried to help out many different people in my life time and was able to meet many different people.

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